TIFF 2019 Exclusive : ‘Motherless Brooklyn’, ‘The Laundromat’ and ‘Uncut Gems’ Reviews

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

Before this film is released later in the year I suspect it will go through a bit of pruning in the editing room. Overlong, with a couple of shots I thought were completely unnecessary, and a dance sequence in a jazz bar that goes on for too long, it needs an edit. Edward Norton, who also directed and wrote the screenplay, stars as Lionel, part of a private investigation business run by Frank Minno (Bruce Willis). Lionel suffers from a Tourette’s like condition that causes him to say outlandish things and gives him severe tics and movements. Yet Frank sees he has a mind, he never forgets anything and can repeat back what you said to him two weeks ago…verbatim. When Frank is brutally murdered, Lionel cannot let it go and begins piecing together the events that led to the killing of his friend and mentor. His search takes him into the upper echelon of New York government, where corruption reigns supreme.

On his journey, Lionel helps a confused young black woman, Laura (Gigi Mbatha-Raw) who is unwittingly connected to the corruption and they want her gone. Lionel saves her, more than once, and discovers she does not see his condition, only his decency. As Lionel searches deeper, he will uncover some painful truths for some very dangerous men at the very top of the food chain.

Alec Baldwin radiates pure danger and menace as Moses, a city planner with greater power than the puppet of a Mayor. Baldwin needs to walk into a room with a scowl to project nastiness; the actor is very good in the film. Equally fine is Willem Dafoe as his mysterious brother who has the power to make things very difficult for his brother. Bruce Willis is terrific as Minno, though killed off way too soon. I wanted more of this guy, he was fascinating. Mbatha-Raw has such soulful eyes, when she is hurt so are we, when she feels pain, so does the audience. You find yourself asking who could hurt this lovely girl? And when she proves to have real humanity, well, you might swoon.

And Norton.

One of the greatest actors of the last twenty years he has more than proven himself with Primal Fear (1996), his searing performance in ‘American History X’ (1998), ‘Fight Club’ 1999), ‘The 25th Hour’ (2002), ‘Death to Smoochy’ (2002), ‘Bird Man’ (2014) and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014). Here he is exceptional as Lionel, ever watchful, taking everything he sees and hears into his broken brain to be processed. It is a wonderfully inventive performance, great even when one considers he directed the film.

New York of the fifties is recreated lovingly, with gleaming cars lining the streets of the grand old city. Despite some strange shots, choices of shots and some meandering through the middle, I quite enjoyed this film and Norton.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

THE LAUNDROMAT

Steven Soderbergh brings to ‘The Laundromat’ the same bouncy, near jaunty tone he brought to ‘The Informant!’ (2009) which contains a superior Matt Damon performance. After a tragic ferry accident leaves her husband dead, Ellen (Meryl Streep) is denied financial compensation and wants some answers. Furious that she feels her husbands death is not being considered important, she investigates why, and how this could happen. Following the proverbial paper trail, her search leads her to some pretty far-flung places around the globe, which only mystifies the widow more.

Nicely framed with Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas literally telling us everything we need to know about money laundering and cheating decent hard-working folks out of their money, Soderbergh keeps the film breezing along, a tight, taut ninety minutes. By the time we realize we are seeing how the Panama Papers scandal broke, we have been overloaded with information. While it is presented in an interesting manner, it becomes rather overwhelming. I cannot see the average mainstream audience being into the film, but you never know.

Streep is, as always very good as a coarse woman trying to get answers to questions she feels justified in asking. Why is she being jerked around? Why is she being cheated? She struggles to come to terms as to why the death of the man she loved means so little to everyone she comes in contact with. They might offer condolences, but they simply do not care. It takes her all over the globe to realize no one but her, gives a damn. Truly, her experience is heartbreaking and shameful. To some, money is a God, and they will go through great lengths to make it, then even greater lengths to keep it. How they sleep at night I will never understand.

At the end of the day, the film felt redundant largely due to ‘The Informant!’ which is not a bad thing, it just did not work for me. Not one of Soderbergh’s better efforts. After such a promising start with sex, lies and videotape (1989), an Oscar for Best Director for ‘Traffic’ (2000) the same year he was nominated for ‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000), he has always been a fascinating director. I loved ‘The Limey’ (1999) with that towering Terence Stamp performance, but then to go off to make the Oceans 11 films? Why? Such a waste of talent. His film ‘Contagion’ (2010) was astounding, leaving me hopeful, but after this, my confidence is shattered.

The Cinemawala Rating: 2/5

UNCUT GEMS

Adam Sandler is the real deal as an actor but only when he chooses to be. He has made hundreds of millions of dollars playing a moron, doing stupid voices, working in comedy that is vulgar and frankly, easy humour. However, there is real dramatic talent there when he chooses to step outside the comfort zone. He was excellent in ‘Punch Drunk Love’ (2002) for Director Paul Thomas Anderson, forever silencing Film Critics who savaged each film he made. In ‘Spanglish’ (2005) he was superb as a famous chef falling in love with his housekeeper when his demonic harpy of a wife cheats on him. As the most normal character in the film, there was real dramatic heft in his work.

His finest work (until now) remains one of his least seen films ‘Reign Over Me (2007) where Sandler is brilliant as a dentist who has detached from life after the deaths of his wife and children, aboard one of the 9/11 planes. Quietly powerful, Sandler captures the rage of a man who truly has lost everything that mattered to him and does not know how to find his way back. Truly a remarkable piece of acting. ‘Funny People’ (2010) saw him play a variation of himself. As a major movie star, formerly stand up comic, his doctor tells him he is dying, which sends him into a tailspin. Snarky, nasty, narcissistic, his character is not always a likeable guy, but he is always real.

In ‘Uncut Gems’, Sandler is simply sensational. Period, end of the discussion. The guy is brilliant and a real actor. If anyone doubts his skills going forward they are an idiot….plain and simple. Brash, vulgar, frantic, hyperactive, loud and obnoxious, Sandler is brilliant as a jeweller who foolishly loans an expensive gem to a sports star, and is facing ruin when it is not returned. A compulsive gambler he is facing deep trouble if he cannot pay his debts and knows it.

Julia Fox does fine work as his girlfriend while Idina Mendel shines but at the centre of this hurricane of a film is Sandler, who has never been better. What a pleasure to see an actor evolve right before our eyes.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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